Monday, March 5, 2012

Synchronicity & Sunday Shining: Relay Racing and More

With one breath, with one flow
You will know Synchronicity

My first week returning to running after the RedHot was a decent one, with pain from my IT band largely subsiding. I got in several nice, flat gravel loops around the Connected Lakes in the early morning hours with Laura, did an early double-up on Serpents Trail with Marty and English Elizabeth, and led weekly track after skipping it for the first time in the week prior. Thursday brought a killer yoga class with Danny, the instructor I call the Deceptive Taskmaster, and I was pretty darn sore from that. Taking Friday off, I was feeling "back," and ready to train hard again. I thought my Free or Cheap Race '12 Tour ended with the Valentine's Prediction Massacre, but I was wrong. One local club run I'd never done took place this weekend, entry was only a dollar, and it was a relay of an unusual type. So, I dug up a dollar and headed over to Larry Ingram's house on Saturday for the Tortoise & Hare relay.

This event has been going on for quite awhile, and is one of two that Larry race directs. He was the track coach (now retired) for many years at Grand Junction High School, a national class Masters runner, and the guy in charge of pairing up teams for this race. It's a little confusing at first to understand what happens, but Larry has it down to a science. When I arrived, he had some recent newspaper clippings with results from local races, with the names of many regulars penciled in on a sheet of paper, highlighting our names as we arrived. When someone arrived who was without a recent result or new to the area, he'd ask what their most recent race time happened to be, and then wrote down a predicted finish time. Once all sixteen runners had checked in, he started matching up teams of runners, putting the fastest runner together with the slowest, and then working his way in to create teams that in theory should be pretty evenly matched. Looking around at the crowd, I thought to myself, "hmmmm, I may wind up being a Tortoise in this race." There were a bunch of speedy guys, and Suzie, there. Larry confirmed my suspicions a few minutes later when he said "you might be a tortoise today, Karah." I was cool either way, and just waited as he diagrammed out the teams.

When Larry got the teams together, it turned out I was one of two in the dead center of the list, and was paired as the hare with "tortoise" Grayson, a new guy at our track group from Arkansas. I use the parenthesis because we are a pretty dead even match, and he'd actually done his intervals at Wednesday track a lot faster than me that week. The other time I'd seen him at track, we were more or less synchronized on our intervals as well, with one of us being just ahead of the other each time. I joked that it was quite likely the hare would be slower on our team. This was good, positive motivation, though, to hammer my lap hard.

The way the race itself works is pretty cool. All the tortoises start from Larry's house for a three mile lap, running down neighborhood streets and around the golf course. Grayson, barring any unusual happenings during the first lap, would in theory be the first runner in this group since he was the fastest of the tortoises. Then, I, as the slowest of the hares, would be chased down by all the other hares on the second lap, with the fastest runners coming all the way from the back. Jay was the fastest guy there, so I knew I'd likely see him at some point on my lap. Ben was second fastest so I expected to see him at some point in my lap as well. Coincidentally, Grayson and I had both dressed in orange and black, so it was fitting we wound up as teammates today. A few runners were given an early start based on Larry's calculations, and then the other runners started en masse for their first lap. I hung out with the other hares, jogged a few more times, and got ready to do my thing. Sure enough, at less than 20 minutes, we saw Grayson turn the corner on his return to Larry's house. I got ready to run, and as he approached, I thought wow, he ran a great pace. I could see the second runner just turning the corner almost half a mile away as he tagged off to me.

Getting off to a good start, I fell right into a zone, keeping myself turning over at a high cadence and relaxing my body. I knew I couldn't magically become a sub-18 minute 5K runner so I wasn't going to stress myself out about getting caught by the fastest runners; just wanted to do my best and push my own pace as much as possible, and hopefully hold off as many runners as possible. Grayson had really killed his lap, giving me a good buffer to start. I focused my gaze just a little bit in front of me, not looking far ahead or turning back.

Running by myself was kind of weird; I took a turn that I thought was correct but did not notice any cones at the corner. For a minute I thought I'd gone the wrong way but just kept running. Soon enough, I saw a cone. Phew. Didn't screw this up. I'll say one thing; I think those of us who run our smaller, minimally supported races in this area learn to be sharp and attentive to course details. We've all gotten lost or taken a funny turn at some point, and if we haven't, it's only a matter of time before that occurs. I ran down the first short stretch of this rectangle-shaped course, and turned. I did take a look back here just to see if I could see anyone charging ahead yet; there was no one behind me.

Heading down the long stretch, I really had no idea my pace but felt like I was moving well. I saw a cyclist approaching; as he got closer, I thought, he looks familiar. I got a smile and wave from the cyclist, and realized it was Kevin, our friend who won the RedHot (he blogged about his race, and I would urge all to go check it out over here) and then proceeded to ride his bike the 110 miles home to Grand Junction from Moab. Several friends mentioned seeing him out there after the race in the rain and snow, and feeling, well, less manly. It was fortuitous to see him right there, and think for a second about his training work ethic. It caused me to pull up from any bit of slumpiness I had going, and regain the best form I could maintain now at two miles in.

I turned off the long stretch onto the second short stretch of road, and there was still nobody audibly creeping up. Not wearing a watch really freed me up to run hard and fast and just focus on holding off any other runners as long as I could. Knowing we still had a chance to win had me digging for every little bit of kick in my system. This stretch had the one gradual, steady uphill on the course, and it is right when one is most tired. Coming to the top of the short hill and making the last turn back to Larry's, I was still leading. Somebody HAD to be close, but I wasn't about to turn around and waste energy. Pushing down the road, I saw my teammate Grayson, who asked how I felt...."Like s#it!" I hollered back as I plowed forward.

I could see the finish line and it appeared I was going to make it without getting caught. Still, I didn't know. I hurtled toward the finish and made it in. Turning around, I looked and could see Ben not more than about 30-40 seconds back. He and his teammate Nan were second, with Ben apparently tracking my orange shirt the whole time and making up a lot of ground, but just not enough on such a short loop. When awards time came, Grayson and I got our official winner certificates and chocolate bunnies.
We'd run a total time of 42:42, nearly synchronized in our efforts, with Grayson at 21:28 for his lap, and me at 21:14.

My observant middle daughter was the only person to notice that we'd apparently run this race in the middle ages, with the little typo on the date. Obviously, we runners were distracted by the chocolate.

It was turning into quite the nice day, and several of us made plans to do 2-3 hours of trails the next day. It was SO nice, in fact, that a lot of the racers headed down the road for extra cooldown. Grayson and Ben decided to go run the Tabeguache next on top of the race. I thought about both options, but with my IT band being a little funny since the RedHot, opted to skip anything extra today

Sun is shining,
The weather is sweet, yeah
Makes you wanna move your dancing feet

Getting up the next day, I was kind of dragging. It was set to be a beautiful day, though. I coffeed up, had some food, and still wasn't quite with it. This is the great thing, though, about track night, and with coordinating group runs with the Ultra Dogs and other friends who like to hit trails. I could have easily settled into the couch and done nothing for the day, but I kind of organized this puppy and wasn't going to back out of a group run now. Jerry, Grayson, Ben, and I all caravanned out to Mary's Loop (with Jerry and Grayson first heading the wrong way on I-70, ha...when Ben got them on the phone he said "I should have said 'head toward Utah'"), and we kind of lollygagged our way into starting, eventually selecting a route that would take us onto Mary's Loop, then drop down to Horsethief Bench (AKA Where You Might See Five Dozen Cows On The Trail Bench). I was in shorts for a training run for the first time this year, and started in long sleeves, but less than a mile in I peeled that off to wear the short sleeved shirt I had on underneath.

Everyone claimed to be "tired" and wanting to "take it easy," but I could see that was a bunch of B.S. today. The pace was a nice, steady clip. I was feeling like I was running sluggishly but the guys were really chugging along. This was good because I probably would've phone it in more on my own today, honestly. There's never an ugly day out at Mary's, but it was especially spectacular today, with each of us saying a camera would've been a good idea. I ran with Jerry for awhile, with Ben and Grayson running ahead, which was good because I kept him from steering off-course when it was time to drop down to Horsethief Bench. The guys all really started flying through here, and I upped my pace again, lagging about a minute back but still where I could see them. We made a planned "play stop" down by the river; Grayson got brave and put his feet in the freezing cold water, and I got good and muddy jumping back up from the riverbanks onto higher ground.

It was a little hard to start again now but I moved on along, with the guys now flying ahead. I thought I was dragging but then realized, hey, they're getting all testosterone-y and racing one another in training. Oh, okay. So I wasn't moving slowly after all. I wasn't going to join in racing the run, especially since they all top out at a faster pace than me anyway, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to push enough to keep just a minute or two back from them. I treated my run like a trail tempo run for a little bit but not worry about whether I'm right with them or not. I pushed along at a good pace for me, and as it turned out, I really wasn't all that far behind them.

Finishing out the run back up Mary's to our vehicles, I was glad we had a group going today. It took me about ten miles to warm up and really feel good in my running, but it was a great run with about 12 miles covered a lot faster than I would have done on my own. Ben said he'd realized it was the last time he'd have to run this trail really fast before Canyonlands and Desert RATS and just sort of started running really fast out there. We "feasted" on bananas at the finish, and then headed back to town, feeling that good post-trail run bliss that comes from the combination of sweat, dirt, sunshine, and good, all-over tiredness.

It is now just two weeks before the annual rite of spring for runners here; the Canyonlands Half Marathon. I ran an epically bad race there last year so anything *should* be an improvement. I would, however, like to turn in more of a redemption run rather than just improving upon a race where I really bottomed out. The Desert RATS 50 miler also looms around the corner, so training is going to be about walking the fine line to get in the miles for that, while still resting properly for Moab.

1 comment:

AKA Darkwave, AKA Anarcha, AKA Cris. said...

What a fun idea for a race! I was wondering how it was structured.